China's Growing Spy Threat (Page 4 of 5)

One prominent analyst on the issue of Falun Gong persecution, David Kilgour, is a former Canadian member of parliament and served as Canada’s secretary of state for Asia-Pacific in 2002 and 2003. He recently co-authored a book entitled ‘Bloody Harvest—The killing of Falun Gong for their organs,’ which closely examines the brutality and takes a look at the regime’s illegal persecution of exiled practitioners. 

‘The espionage and intimidation the party-state deploys against Falun Gong abroad is outrageous,’ Kilgour says, calling it an extension of the ‘very severe persecution’ in China. ‘It’s unconscionable for a repressive government to use the freedom of a democracy to project abroad its persecution of its chosen victims.’

Among the examples he cites is a 2003 case in which two Chinese diplomatic officials in Edmonton were caught handing out pamphlets inciting hatred against the Falun Gong—a crime in Canada. But there’s much more, he says.

Chinese defectors have told Kilgour that the effort spent monitoring and repressing dissidents overseas actually outweighs all other functions of Chinese diplomatic missions combined, he says. Apparently the regime doesn’t want the international community to realize what has been perpetrated in China. 

One victim of that persecution, author and human rights activist Jennifer Zeng, fled China in 2001 after being tortured at one of the regime’s ‘Re-Education-Through-Labour’ camps. ‘The PRC espionage and intimidation against FG practitioners overseas is so common that many of us have become accustomed to it,’ she says.

But while Falun Gong practitioners may be at the top of the regime’s list of perceived enemies, they are far from the only victims of anti-dissident Chinese operations abroad. Another extensively targeted group is the exiled Uighur community, an ethnic minority—primarily Muslim—that has been systematically oppressed within China for decades. China has also been very active in tracking and disrupting the activities of those who managed to flee.

Last year, for example, a man was convicted of ‘aggravated illegal espionage’ against the Uighur refugee community in Sweden. ‘He reported all he could about them,’ says Sweden’s chief national security prosecutor Tomas Lindstram, who prosecuted the case. The information included everything from the targets’ political views and activities to details about their health and travel habits.

Using a ‘rather tricky’ method to communicate with his handlers—a Chinese ‘journalist’ and a diplomatic official—the convicted spy ‘fooled most of his fellow countrymen,’ says Lindstram. The court and the prosecutor recognized the seriousness of the crime—especially because it was to benefit a ‘totalitarian’ government that does not respect human rights. Incredibly, however, the spy was sentenced to less than two years.

Lindstram admits he thought the short sentence was ‘odd’ and didn’t correctly account for the severity of the crime. The government is now apparently looking into the sentencing length question. But for many Uighur activists, the penalty was almost an outrage.

‘There should be a tougher punishment for a crime like this in order to send a strong signal to other possible spies around the world,’ says Mehmet Tohti, the Special Representative of the World Uighur Congress to the European Union. And it isn’t just Sweden that could use improvement.

Tohti says the West in general isn’t doing enough to protect and support exiled Chinese dissidents—even though it is in the free world’s own interest to do so. In Germany, for example, there have also been several incidents of Chinese espionage against Uighurs in recent years. Little has been done.

‘Chinese spying is a big problem for the Uighur community—especially for Uighur organizational leaders,’ says Tohti. But they are hardly alone.

Other victims of Chinese intimidation, wiretapping, and e-mail theft—Tibetan activists and pro-democracy advocates, for example—are fiercely persecuted by the regime outside of China, too. According to Tohti, one of the goals is to minimize the impact of anti-China protests because they are ‘exposing China’s gross and systematic violation of human rights’ to the world.

Beyond Intelligence: Offensive Capabilities

Chinese intelligence agencies are clearly involved in collecting information on a massive scale. Some analysts even refer to the regime’s strategy as the ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ approach. But intelligence gathering is only one piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps even more alarming than monitoring dissidents and stealing trade secrets, analysts say, is mounting evidence of the regime’s increasing ability and willingness to employ its spy services offensively. The number of examples is growing rapidly.

In the cyber realm, China’s use of offensive tactics was highlighted again just last month. As The Diplomat reported on August 25, a video on cyber warfare broadcast over China’s military state TV channel included a brief segment that raised eyebrows worldwide.

The footage apparently showed an old computer programme from the People’s Liberation Army Electronic Engineering Institute being used to ‘attack’ a US-based website tied to the Falun Gong via a US university’s network. And, while the short clip featured outdated and unsophisticated methodology, analysts say it was important for several reasons—providing more evidence of China’s offensive cyber activities being chief among them.

A 2009 report prepared for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s cyber capabilities also suggests that the regime’s information-warfare strategy features offensive operations prominently. According to the authors’ analysis of the regime’s strategy, the tools ‘will be widely employed in the earliest phases of a conflict, and possibly pre-emptively.’ 

The study also notes that faculty members at China’s National University of Defense Technology ‘are actively engaged in research on offensive network operations techniques or exploits.’ Research and development on ‘a variety of offensive information warfare technologies’ is also being conducted by institutes overseen by the PLA’s General Staff Department Fourth Department.

Comments
Please read our comments policy.
Note that all comments are moderated and your comment may not appear immediately.
Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief